No one expects that solving the Cyprus issue will be easy. No one besides the Cypriots themselves has a right to set terms for and possible obstacles in the way of a solution. No one expects that problems which existed for decades, and mentalities forged in fire and war, which dominate memories on both sides, will disappear. We all understand the difficulty that people face in accepting the end of the current state of affairs in exchange for something that they are not sure will benefit them. However difficult the present situation, it is familiar, and familiarity breeds a sense of security.
There are very few instances when ethnic groups dared to give up their rights or guarantees in exchange for living with other, different groups. In the case of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots have the benefit of being the majority and of running a recognized state; the Turkish Cypriots are isolated but also have the support of Turkish arms and a heavy dependence on Turkey. Both sides have much to give up and much to gain from peaceful coexistence.
It is up to the Cypriots to reassure their citizens, to conciliate their two communities, to overcome the voices that reject any compromise. It is their business, but the stakes are much bigger. At a time when divisions are growing across the world between national, class and religious groups, when European unity is at stake, when powerful countries focus more on their specific interests rather than the collective good, a decision by two communities to reunite in a federation would provide a message of hope.
But when the United States elected president a man who promised a wall on the border with Mexico, who proposed banning Muslims from entering, whose plans could shut millions of people out of their country’s health system, who says that he will scrap international agreements, can we expect the communities of a small country to do the opposite and bring down the wall between them? This will occur only when the majority on both sides believes that cooperation and coexistence will benefit them immediately and in the long term, overcoming domestic opposition. Those outside Cyprus – whether Greece, Turkey, the EU, the United States or Russia – ought to support the two sides and not seek gains on the basis of their own interests.
Humanity’s course is not linear. It goes forward and back, up and down. During most of the years of stability of the Pax Americana, Cyprus was divided and a source of tension. Now that the whole world is splitting apart, Cyprus, after many years of tough experience, could once again be the exception, showing that even the most difficult problems can be solved. Against all odds.